“Q Tips”

By Suzy Beal

Let me tell you about my week.  It started early Monday morning at 4:30 am just as my husband was getting up to go to the gym.  He said, “Well, after today’s cleaning of the gas stoves, we will be ready for winter.”

We had completely repainted the exterior of the house, re-stained both decks, painted, and had installed new fascia and gutters. We’d had about twenty trees planted around the house and a new concrete driveway put in.  Robert had remodeled the outside storage and built a small mudroom in the garage.  We were finished and glad to be done with our summer “To Do “list.

The only remaining item on the list was to call the gas company and have them send their maintenance man to clean both gas stoves and make them ready for winter.


James, the stove man, was here. He’d just come in from being on the roof cleaning out the chimney and brushing the soot residue down. He plugged in the vacuum. I was in the laundry room and knew something was wrong when he hollered out, “Oh, no!” I came out to see a large, black cloud hovering over everything.  At first, I didn’t sense what was wrong. Then, as the seconds ticked by, I realized: There was no filter on his vacuum and the soot was pouring out the back into the house.

James quickly pulled the plug, but the damage was done. As he realized the magnitude of his mistake he began to apologize.  I had been peeling and cutting up 22 lbs. of apples to freeze for pies later in the winter. I watched the soot settle on my fresh apples.  Tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden turned dark before my eyes.

I started walking around the kitchen and dining room swiping my finger across surfaces.  They came up black.  What should I do?  How was I going to get everything clean?  James was shaking his head and apologizing.  Finally he said,  “Suzy, I will pay to have all this cleaned up.  Call a cleaning company and see if they can come over right away.”

My mind grasped this idea and I called Merry Maids, but they were too busy and they suggested I call Service Master. I called them and the lady said she would be over at 11:00 am.  It was now 10:15.  James left to get a filter for his vacuum.  I knew then I wouldn’t let him back in the house to do anything, filter or no filter!

I continued walking around the house in a daze.  A Kleenex in my hand, discovering just how fast soot travels when shot out of a vacuum.  I wiped windowsills, papers on my desk, books on the shelves, couch and chairs, my sister’s hand-woven rugs, dishes in the sink–everything was covered in a blanket of black.  I ran to check Robert’s grand piano. Oh please, please–but yes, the white keys were not white and the black keys were blacker.


After the 11:00 o’clock meeting, it was clear that this was going to be a long, expensive cleaning job.  Melissa actually quoted $5,000 to $7,000 for the entire job. How could this be?

James had given her his business card with his license number.  She called her office and they looked up his contractor’s number. He did have a current license, which meant that he did have insurance.

I called my insurance company and they assured me that they would cover the costs if James didn’t file a claim.  Then I remembered we had a $2000 deductible.  This could be the most expensive house cleaning ever!

By 1:00 o’clock there were two cleaning ladies at my house. They started in the kitchen and dining room, which were a direct hit.  As I watched them clean everything with a dry sponge, I began to realize why this was going to take so long

On Tuesday morning they arrived at 8:00 am and around 10:30 I came in from the back deck where I was lodged with my computer.  I found one of the ladies cleaning the bookshelf in the living room. The books on the shelves came out one by one and were wiped. The videos and CDs were treated the same.  All the walls and ceiling were wiped and vacuumed.

She had my little, wooden castles that sit on the shelf in her hand and was cleaning them with Q Tips!  They picked up every little thing on the counters and wiped each down, including the papers strewn around my desk, pencils, pens. The adding machine was cleaned with Q Tips as well.  They used Q Tips to clean the dollhouse furniture in the dollhouse we have for our granddaughter.

On Tuesday morning I got a call from Melissa and she said that she had spoken with James and he had filed a claim with his insurance company.  Thank Goodness!


I had to throw out my apples and all the fruits and vegetables on the kitchen counter.  We ate out that first night because I just couldn’t face the kitchen.  However, as each day passes and they have been cleaning for three days already, I begin to feel as though it will be done soon.  I will have the cleanest house in the county by the time the carpets and blinds have been done.

This is a good thing and I’m beginning to enjoy thinking about it.

© 2018 Suzy Beal

Suzy Beal, an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told, has been writing her life story and personal essays for years. In 2016 Suzy began studying with Sheila Bender at writingitreal.com.  

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
This entry was posted in Guest writer. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to “Q Tips”

  1. Anyone who has ever tried to keep a house clean will relate to this dramatic tale. I was both horrified and amused while reading it. Thank goodness the situation could be resolved without even more damage to nerves and property, though I’m sorry about the lost produce.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s